Five minutes with: Alex Catarinella on New Zealand Fashion Week

What job title do you give yourself? 

Extraordinary freelance fashion/music/culture writing machine. I write for a number of publications… MTV Style, Dazed & Confused, ELLE, Paper, Wonderland, i-D, to name a few. But my best friend and recording artist aka Natalia Kills also calls me her stage mom, which is an accurate job description. I sometimes style her (I styled her album artwork for her forthcoming album, Trouble), book her gigs, fly around the globe with her, get her press, in addition to gossiping about boys over several coffees.

What is your fashion background, and describe your journey to becoming a fashion writer?

I spent my first two years of college studying musical theatre, but I really just wanted to major in “pop star.” That did not work out – I was living in a never-ending nightmare of a ‘Glee’ marathon. That resulted in me transferring to a liberal arts school in Manhattan where I somehow nabbed a writing internship at Paper magazine. There I was, this clueless but overly enthusiastic intern who’d be the first to volunteer to attend fancy fashion events and sheepishly approach big-time designers, supermodels and celebs for quotes via my iPhone recorder. I didn’t go to school for fashion design or even journalism. I am the total “I fell into the fashion world” cliched story. Anyway, the fashion writing thing stuck with me, and now it’s difficult for me to think of how many publications I’ve written for.

 Who will you be writing for and representing at New Zealand Fashion Week?

Fashionista and new-ish and awesome NYC magazine, Seen Heard Known. Maybe a few others too.

It will be your second time attending New Zealand Fashion Week. What made you decide to return?

I really fell in love with the city – Auckland sort of reminds me of San Francisco. I also cannot wait to have a proper Flat White. Yum. Oh, and I’m looking forward to the shows of course. I was so impressed with many of the designers’ work. The energy from the attendees is incredible too – I love watching the bloggers leaning in with their cameras and snapping away. I don’t recall the stuffy press wearing sunglasses and jotting down notes with their legs crossed types that you often see at other fashion weeks. I do, however, recall a bikini-clad girl popping out of a cake during the Huffer show. NZFW is my kind of fashion week.

Are there any particular labels you will be hunting out when you get here, or looking forward to seeing again?

Off the top of my head, Huffer, Stolen Girlfriend’s Club, Zambesi, Salasai and Jimmy D. I’ve been rocking the Jimmy D “Gloom Rules” T-shirt as of late over here in NYC and getting many a compliment! I’m excited to discover new designers, too.

Where is home for you, and what are some your favourite labels and why?

I’ve been in NYC for over six years and I’ve lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the past three years. My crazily talented friends are also my favourite designers. I’d like to wear Obesity and Speed paired with some Chris Habana accessories from head-to-toe 24/7. But if I was a wealthy woman, I’d only wear the amazing Prabal Gurung. Paired with Karen Walker sunnies, of course.

If you were a designer and had a fashion muse, who would it be and why?

Oh man. I don’t know and I don’t think that would happen. Unless it was a T-shirt collaboration paying homage to Ginger Spice.

What excites you most about fashion?

I’m not into the polished, meticulously styled runway looks. I’m interested and fascinated by the “regular” person wearing the designs on the city streets — how they wear it, how they style it, hair and make-up, all of that. How they make the design their own.

How you would describe your personal style?

Comfortable. Maybe lazy. But I clean up pretty well. Also a little grungy and nostalgic. You should see my concert T-shirt pile…

What is your favourite fashion item and why? 

My Spice Girls ‘Spice World’ tour shirt from ‘98 is very dear to my heart as well as my grandfather’s oversized shearling coat. And lately, it’s all about my Underground creepers that I bought from Trash and Vaudeville. I swear I’ve only been wearing two pairs of their creepers for the past year. I don’t wanna imagine living with those extra two inches they give me. Was such a fashion “AHA!” moment for me!

What would be your most memorable “fashion career” moment to date?

A press trip to Berlin for Beth Ditto’s MAC Cosmetics line launch for sure. It was beyond wild. I interviewed her, she performed Madonna’s “Vogue” AND I ended up on the rooftop of the Soho House with her and her posse which involved lots of champagne, underwear, and a pool. I’ll leave it at that. Beth has the best style ever, by the way.

Who have you learned from the most, and why?

Probably from Paper’s Editorial Director, Mickey Boardman. He never treated me like an intern. He totally pushed me and believed in me. He’s what you’d call a “big deal” yet he is the coolest person – he literally lights up the room in his sequinned Lanvin tops and glitzy chunky necklaces. He basically taught me to work hard and be true to myself.

If budget wasn’t an option and you could buy any fashion garment or accessory tomorrow, what would you buy?

I’d raid Patti Smith’s closet. Those oversized blazers! I’d probably frame them, though.

Alannah Hill leaves her own label

The renowned red-lipped fashion designer has announced she has terminated her employment with Factory X, 18 years after the Aussie icon began her label ‘Alannah Hill’.

Factory X Group, the business controlled by David Heeney which also produces brands including Lisa Gorman and Dangerfield, will continue to operate the 42 ‘Alannah Hill’ stores. But according to a statement released this morning, the designer  will: “not design for, or have any further input into, the brand that bears her name”.

The much celebrated fashion label, that famously embraces femininity and romance, was launched in 1997 to much fanfare and immediate success. The internationally recognisable brand has been worn by celebrities including Nicole Kidman, Kylie Minogue and Taylor Swift.

But it hasn’t been an easy climb to the top for Hill. One of five children, she reportedly left home and moved to Melbourne  when she was 16 and started her fashion career as a sales girl at a Chapel St fashion outlet in 1981, before eventually moving on to design clothes for the store. Sixteen years later she found a business partner and opened her first store on the same iconic Melbourne street.

Hill’s fashion empire has come a long way since then, with 14 stand-alone stores across the country, 22 concession stores in David Jones and more than 350 employees. The mother of one has also found personal bliss, having been rumoured to be engaged to musician Hugo Race of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame.

Often seen sporting her signature heavy eye make-up and frilly, girly fashions, Alannah said of her departure:  I am deeply saddened to make this monumental decision.  I was completely devoted to my label and all that it represents to girls Australia-wide.  My heart, my soul, my every little thing has been poured into creating a brand for girls who love and share my vision of ornamental, sensational and beautiful clothes.  I won’t be taking a “wellearned break”, nor will I be going on safari!  My dream is to continue to create fashion that radiates joy and the power of transformation, not just in fashion but in life itself.  Thank you to all the wonderful people who have supported me along the way.  Your dedication and love, quite sincerely, has meant the world to me.”

Rumours in the media have been circling since mid 2011 that  Hill and her employers at Factory X were on rocky ground. One columnist wrote that the designer had been ‘banned from her own office’ at the company’s Abbotsford headquarters. Unfortunately Hill is yet another in a long line of Australian designers to have faced tough times in the recent economic climate, with fellow Aussie fashion designers Lisa Ho and Bettina Liano facing similar turmoil in recent months.